The way Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch would have you think it, being a judge is a science: you consider the facts, you consider the precedent, and you consider, as closely you can, how the law in question was written.
But avoiding questions about how you approach being a judge — now that, for those who watched Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, is an art.
It’s strategy that’s part judicial ethics, part political savvy. Commenting on cases or controversial legal issues, so it goes, would be unfair to future litigants who would expect their justice to be completely open-minded. For a Supreme Court nominee under the bright lights of a Senate hearing, it also pushes him to step into a political minefield — and in Gorsuch’s case, a particularly treacherous one, given the President who nominated him.
So in a vacuum where Gorsuch would not explain if he agreed with certain precedents, whether people can be banned based on their religion or the implications of the Constitution’s Emoluments clause, the handsome, dimpled, 49-year-old engaged in a full-scale charm offensive.
Key to his technique was the old kill ‘em with kindness, with a dash of aw shucks, guys, by golly.
“I have spent the last, what is it, two months in these buildings with you, 72 of your colleagues and I wish the American people could see what I’ve seen,” Gorsuch said Wednesday. “I think if they had seen what I’ve seen, they’d be much bigger believers in their government than they are.”
Pitch a softball to Gorsuch, and he’ll hit it out of the park.
“What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Tuesday, a question that has special meaning to fans of the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series.
“Forty-two,” Gorsuch responded, playing along with the answer in the book.
The Colorado-based judge was also game to explain to Cruz the joys of mutton-busting, a staple on the rodeo circuit that Gorsuch joked may have given his kids PTSD.
Gorsuch took in stride the teasing of Sen. Al Franken (D-M)), one of his toughest questioners, who hassled him about getting the date wrong for when the Federal Arbitration Act was passed. And when Franken came back out, not long after, with a mea culpa that Gorsuch was correct about the date after all.
“I humbly apologize,” Franken said, to which Gorsuch responded, without an ounce of I-told-you-so, “Not at all. Not at all.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) took his own bat to Democrats for asking Gorsuch questions he deemed inappropriate. Rather than join in when given the chance, Gorsuch employed a classic: It’s not you, it’s me.
“Senator, questions aren’t inappropriate” Gorsuch said. “Answers would be inappropriate. I’m the one who’s bound by my code of conduct. “
“You’re a kind man,” Tillis said, impressed, but also maybe a little disappointed. “That’s while I’ll never be nominated for the Supreme — well there’s a lot of reasons, but that’s one of them.”
Gorsuch wasn’t out there tap dancing on his own. He had the assistance of the committee’s Republicans, who were happy to chat about all sorts of topics unrelated to Supreme Court jurisprudence.
Courtesy of a line of questions from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), we learned that Gorsuch likes to ski, he vacations in Winter Park, Colorado, and that he has never been summoned for jury duty.
Oh, and Gorsuch likes to fish. Does he ever like to fish. It’s a hobby he learned from his mother, per his opening remarks Monday. It provides him “a lot of solace” he told Flake, because “You can’t focus on the worries of the world when you’re only worried about a trout.”
But don’t try to get him to reveal his favorite fishing spot, as Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) tried.
“Do I have to answer this question, Mr. Chairman?” Gorsuch pleaded, adding he would let Crapo in on the secret privately.
“My experience is that once the word gets out, then it’s not — It’s not my favorite spot anymore,” he explained.
And what’s confirmation hearing for a nominee named by President Donald Trump without a couple Trump jokes.
Wednesday’s biggest laugh was in response to an interjection from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) after Gorsuch’s descriptions of John Hancock’s signature.
“You just said bigly” Sasse cracked. “And I just won 5 bucks”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), as loose as a comedian at the end of his stand-up routine, closed off his round of questionings at the end of Tuesday’s 12-hour session by asking Gorsuch, “You’ve never been to Russia, have you?”